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New beauty standards prefer healthy and toned over skinny

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City set out to determine out what women perceive to be the ideal female figure in the United States. The study revealed that women are now finding muscular and toned bodies to be more desirable over extremely thin bodies.

The research team focused its study on the Miss USA competition, where contenders are primarily judged on their appearance and also how well they fit into today’s beauty standards. The experts showed images of pageant winners from 1999 to 2013 wearing two-piece swimsuits to 78 undergraduate female students.

The study participants rated the women according to how muscular, thin, and attractive they were. The more recent pageant winners received the highest ratings, and the team noted that these particular women have become increasingly muscular over the past 15 years.

Next, the researchers analyzed whether the long-held ideal of extreme thinness is evolving to include enhanced muscle tone. A separate group of 64 undergraduate students were shown pairs of photographs featuring 14 women. Each pair of images was identical in every way except that the muscular definition of the woman’s body was digitally removed in one picture, leaving a “thin only” image and a “thin and toned” image.

The images were first shown separately, and the study participants rated both versions of the picture as being equally attractive. When the pairs of images were shown side-by-side, however, the muscular images were more appealing to the participants.

“There is a shift in the thin ideal female figure to one that now includes the appearance of physical fitness via muscularity,” said Bozsik. She explained that the findings of the study are consistent with the growing preference for a toned and thin female figure that is commonly portrayed now in the “fitspiration” trend on social media.

“These websites allow individuals to collect images of women with whom they identify or admire, essentially allowing them to cultivate their own media repertoire of highly salient thin and fit media,” said Bozsik. “This process of selecting preferred images and then narrowing the media focus by placing these images on their ‘boards’ may inadvertently increase the risk of developing higher levels of body dissatisfaction, as well as subsequent disordered-eating behaviors that are linked to it.”

The study is published in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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